This story is told my Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Two hundred years ago in Koretz, all the Jews were G-d fearing except Avramele the Schneider, the tailor. He never went to synagogue, or to the kosher butcher for that matter. The only place people saw him was at the local pub at night, drunk. People only went to him to get their clothers fixed, otherwise they did not care about him at all. One day Avramele passed away, and R. Pinchas Shapiro, one of the three students of the Baal Shem Tov saw a crowd of people gathered in the corner of the schule. What’s going on he asked? Nothing? No tell me. Well one of the most disgusting Jews in the city just died, and no one wants to go to his funeral. I did not know there were disgusting Jews in Koretz, R. Pinchas said. Oh, it’s Avramele the Schneider.
- Pinchas turned pale. The people were afraid he might faint. He started crying ‘Gevalt, gevalt, my dearest friend the tailor has left this world? What time is the funeral, I for one will certainly be there.
When word got out the R. Pinchas would be there, there was much speculation. When R. Pinchas went to a funeral, it was only for a tzaddik, a holy person. Was the scheider a lamed vav, one of the 36 hidden righteous people in the world? All the Jews turned out of the funeral, people were crying out ‘r. Avramele, please forgive us. They were asking him to intercede on their behalf.
One of R. Pinchas’ colleagues, R. Yaivah was in town and also went to the funeral. After the funeral he said to R. Pinchas:
- Pinchas, my dear friend, you can fool the whole city into thinking the tailor was holy. But you and I know better, we was really just what he seemed, a simple Jew, maybe even a bit sinful. So tell me the truth, why did you mourn him so much?
Ah, Rebbe, we know so little about other people.
Do you remember the orphan girl Feigele who grew up in our house? my wife and I adopted her as a baby. Six months ago she got married to an orphan boy, a very nice boy. We borrowed the money to make the wedding. Just a few hours before the wedding Feigele’s groom came up to me and said that we did not buy him a new talis, a new prayer shawl which the groom customarily wears under the chupah.
I told him that I borrowed from every last person, and I did now know who I would get another 10 rubles from for a talis. in a few weeks I would be able to find a source for the funds for the talis.
The boy was crying, Rebbe, Rebbe, everyone will laugh at me if I do not have a new chupah.
I know he was right, but there was no one else to go to for money. ‘okay, I’ll do my best. Wait here, maybe G-d will open up the gates for me.
I walked down the street and tried to think of who I could go to for money, but there was no one. So I decided I would go up to the first house with a light on, and that was the house of Avramele the tailor.
When he opened up the door and saw me, he said, rebbe, it’s such an honor; I never dreamed you would visit me. What can I do for you?
Sweet tailor, you know the orphan Sarah is getting married tonight, and I need 10 rubles for a talis.
Oy, you know how poor I am, I could help you with one ruble.
Schneider, thank you so much, may the Almighty bless you.
I did not know where I would get the rest of the money from, but somehow getting that one ruble made me feel lighter and hopeful. As I was walking away, I hear someone running after me. It was the taylor, and I saw he was crying.
He said to me’ I am poor, but I have managed to save some money. I have nine rubles left, my whole life savings. Rebbe, I would like to give you the money, but do you think I could have a place in the world to come?
I put my hands on his head and said, ‘Avramele, if you do this great mitzvah it is because of you that the wedding is taking place, and I promise you a place in the world to come.
And so, I went to Avramele’s funeral, and I cried walking behind the coffin because I could see that his soul was wrapped in the talis he bought with his last ten ruble for the groom of Sarah the orphan girl.
We learn many things from this story. Who are we to judge a person, for who are we to say the nature of the acts they do. Maybe we cannot judge others, but we can judge ourselves, and ask ourselves whether we give to others when it is easy and convenient, or whether we give of ourselves by putting aside our own desires and responding to the needs of another. Sure, we try to be helpful to our family and friends, to help a friend move on a Sunday afternoon, bring someone chicken soup when they are sick, help someone with their resume or network to help find them a job. But how often do we really extend ourselves, how often do we really stretch, how often do we get out of our comfort zone for others?
Would we give up theater tickets because someone is having a personal crisis and really needs us that evening, or would we give up our Saturday night fun because a friend is lonely. How often do we go out of our way to help a co-worker when we know they are struggling with their project, even though we have our own deadline, but our job is not in jeopardy?
A person who is truly giving gives when it is not easy and convenient, when it is a real stretch. And it is when we stretch ourselves that we really grow. We become greater people for it. Avramele’s act was an act of greatness and made him into a great person. Have we ever given as selflessly as Avramele did? I am not telling everyone to give away their life savings, but Jewish law prescribes tithing, giving 10% of our net income to charity and Jewish causes. 10% is not just nice, it hits us in the gut, it requires a readjustment of our disposable income. No this is not a High Holiday appeal, it is an example of how we can stretch, and become greater people for it in the process.
We all understand that when I am working out, if I push when it hurts, if I give the extra umph at the end, that is how I really get in shape. If I shoot for that extra measure when I am stretching then I will truly be limber. So this coming year, when we have the opportunity to help someone, or someone asks us to get involved, and our first reaction is to say ‘no’, let’s stop and reconsider. Is this an opportunity for a spiritual workout? This Yom Kippur as we think about how we can become better and improve ourselves, as we think about how we can grow as human beings, as Jews and as spiritual beings, let’s specifically embrace the opportunities to do a mitzvah, to go a good deed when my inclination is to shy away, the retreat, to pull away. And through this, may we merit to learn what it means to be a giver. We are enjoined in the Torah to follow in G-d’s ways, and one of the greatest ways it to emulate G-d quality of giving.